TAMPA, Fla. — The question about this year’s NFL Draft strategy for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is going to center around three things: Winning today, depth in talent and securing a successful future for the franchise.
In this Venn diagram sort of approach, we can perhaps try and draw out a sense of knowing where Jason Licht, Bruce Arians, and the Bucs war room might be focusing when the time to add a new class of rookies arrive.
Of course, we can only do this with the information at hand. Questions like whether Chris Godwin and the Buccaneers are going to be together beyond 2021 aren’t answerable right now. If we start our sifting of information with an unknowable assumption, then we’ve gotten off the rails before we ever had a chance.
So, what do we know? Well, for starters, we know Tampa Bay has one running back under contract for 2022. His name is Ke’Shawn Vaughn, and entering the 2021 NFL season, he’ll have 31 career touches to his name. Better than Ronald Jones II entering his second season, but still, not good.
In a league where passing and stopping the pass is the key to sustained success, is running back really priority number one?
The Bucs have a quarterback. He just happens to be the best to ever do it. As of right now he looks primed to play two more seasons. So, while getting the quarterback of the future is certainly important, the justification for waiting to draft a mid-round passer in 2021 is certainly present.
Pass protection? The Buccaneers’ entire offensive line is set for this year and next, except for center Ryan Jensen. Tampa Bay could easily franchise tag him in 2022 if needed, and I can’t imagine Tom Brady being too keen on using a brand-new center in what could be his final season of play. Can you?
Then, there's the pass rush, which brings us to edge rusher Jason Pierre-Paul. When a franchise kicks as much money down the road as the Bucs have, eventually there will be a player who has to be left to walk away from the team in the name of balancing the checkbook.
With Shaquil Barrett locked up for the foreseeable future, Todd Bowles has one side of his pass rush secured. Now is the time to turn to the other end.
Even if the Bucs want Pierre-Paul back for 2022, which I couldn’t imagine they wouldn’t, he’s going to be 33 years old before the new season begins. This, we could argue, is the biggest hole looming over the chances of sustained success for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers franchise. Something which has eluded the organization, even as they hold two Lombardi Trophies in their possession.
This, too, was the thought process for one mock drafter recently, as Matt Valdovinos of Pro Football Network took his latest turn in the NFL Draft rooms of all 32 franchises. At the end of the first round, it was Miami (FL) edge rusher Jaelan Phillips who Valdovinos selected to join the defending Super Bowl champions.
“The Buccaneers have a few decent options here, so they choose the player with the highest upside still on the board. Had he been healthy for most of his college career, there’s no question Jaelan Phillips would be the first edge rusher taken in the 2021 NFL Draft. On the other hand, concussions slowed down his career and caused him to slide here. The Bucs can take Phillips and play him with a rotation until he takes over as the full-time starter across from Shaq Barrett in 2022.”
It wouldn’t be the first time Licht and the Bucs took a chance on a player with an injury history causing him to slide later than his talents would otherwise. Some of those past instances haven’t worked out all too well, but it shouldn’t necessarily discourage the team from getting top tier potential at the end of day one.
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